How wonderful it is to be woken on Nyepi morning and listen. The morning birds are chirping extra loudly today, perhaps it’s just that there’s no other sounds to drown them out. No distant hum of traffic. No motorbikes on the nearby village path. No chopping of the day’s ingredients in the restaurant below. No idle chatter of the local construction women who spend their day walking up and down carting baskets of sand and bricks on their heads. No other sound. Hang on, is that a plane I can hear? It must just be just passing through Balinese airspace, as none can land here today. Today is Nyepi. Balinese new year. Silent day.
Once a year on a dark moon around March or April (the date changes according to the complicated Balinese calendar), is this special day. The belief is that if everyone is silent for the day, lights no lights, and burns no cooking fires; that the evil spirits will be led to believe that everyone has left Bali, that it’s not worth bothering with or disturbing for another year. It is a day for reflection and meditation. No one is allowed on the streets, and must remain in their family compound. Tourists are not exempt and must remain in their hotels. The only people outside are the Pecalang, the local religious neighbourhood watch; patrolling the villages to make sure everyone is following the rules. Of course emergency services are able to operate. But at the local birth centre I support, Bumi Sehat, they tell me that it’s also a quiet day for them. The local women usually cross their legs and hold off giving birth. Tomorrow, however, will be busy.
Last night was the Ngrupuk parade. It was not so silent. In my village pots and pans were banged about and nearby Ogoh-Ogohs were carried through the streets with much revelry. Ogoh-Ogohs are huge paper machine and bamboo monsters made by the local men and boys in every banjar. It takes them weeks. It is quite a spectacular parade to watch. They are a recent, but popular tradition here. The the idea of this noise is to wake up those pesky evil spirits, so that they are all aware of the silence the next day. The day when no one is in Bail, wink wink. A group of partying Russian tourists in the hotel next door took the noisy part a little to much last night. I heard the locals ask them to be quiet several times. ”This is not Kuta, if you want to be noisy go there. This is Ubud, it’s quiet here.” I heard the threat. Unusual, Balinese don’t often complain publicly. Today they are quiet.
I look forward to this day, and hope that my schedule has me in Bail for it. I love the undisturbed noisy silence. By evening it can be a little difficult to try and remember not to turn on the lights, or at least dim them and pull the curtains shut. A couple of years ago I had a knock on my door by one of the Pecalang. I had the light off, but my computer on. The glow of the screen could be seen from outside. You’re not supposed to work or partake in entertainment either. It depends how you define work and entertainment. For me writing is neither (well perhaps a little on the entertainment side). For me writing is reflection, which is what you are supposed to do today.
Imagine if Nyepi were to catch on worldwide. It would be like ‘Earth Hour’ for 24 hours. Imaging the huge savings to our resources. No coal burning electricity. No petrol guzzling traffic. No traffic accidents. No crime. Nothing consumed. The economy would go into a spin. People would have to talk to each other (quietly). There would probably be a spike in the birthrate nine months later (there is in Bail too). In Bali it is a day to restore the balance of nature and of the spirit. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that could be restored everywhere. Imagine what it would be like where you live. Imagine the wonderful silence.
So I’ll spend my day in reflection. And gratitude that the demons will be tricked for another year. I’ll spend my day in glorious silence. It’s joyously deafening.
A few very scary Ogoh-Ogoh, the stuff of nightmares. Ubud, Bail.